Langley letters: too much spent on government ads

Dear Editor,

Not that there’s any lack of entries in this category, but you can add government advertising to the list of things-politicians-oppose-until-they’re-in-power.

As the curtain begins to come down on the Lower Mainland’s TransLink tax plebiscite, B.C. taxpayers have been reminded what happens when politicians have hold of our chequebooks during an election campaign. While we scrimp and sacrifice and pay our taxes to ostensibly fund critical services like public safety, health and education; politicians line up to spend it on flashy ads designed to help them get more votes.

It’s the way it’s always been, apparently.

In opposition in 1999, Christy Clark hammered the NDP government for spending $700,000 in taxpayer money on advertising their budget.

In 2013, the government-opposition roles in B.C. had reversed. Clark’s BC Liberal government unashamedly spent a big chunk of its $36 million taxpayer-funded communications budget on slick TV ads, touting their economic record and jobs plan and laying the foundation for their improbable comeback win.

The opposition NDP – once the guilty advertiser – was outraged by this malodorous spending, even launching a petition calling for an end to taxpayer-funded partisan ads.

Sadly, that new New Democrat position seems to have gone the way of the dodo.

With both the BC Liberals and NDP firmly supporting the TransLink tax campaign, the provincial parties turned a blind eye to TransLink mayors spending $7 million in taxpayer dollars to win this plebiscite.

Not a word of criticism over this blatant misuse of tax money – just a nudge and a wink and a “do-what-you-gotta-do-to-win” attitude, even if it means wasting taxpayer dollars.

In November, B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer tried to bring common sense to the issue: “It is a generally agreed upon principle that government should not use its position of influence or public funds and resources to support an electoral campaign,” she wrote. “Government spends public money to inform taxpayers about its programs, but citizens should not pay for communications that are of a partisan political nature.”

Bellringer recommended that government prohibit partisan political information in government communications, and put together specific guidelines setting out what should or should not be included in ads.

While the Canadian Taxpayers Federation generally chafes at the idea of adding another government committee, it’s clear no party, of any political stripe, can be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to advertising on our dime. At least not once they form government.

It seems politicians will spend anything to get re-elected, especially when it’s taxpayers footing the bill.

It’s time to put pressure on them to close the chequebook and campaign with their own money – not ours.

Jordan Bateman

Canadian Taxpayers Federation

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